Tinnitus noise and ringing in the ears can be debilitating, and research has indicated that tinnitus may also cause depression and anxiety. If you are struggling with tinnitus noise and symptoms of depression and anxiety, life can be very challenging. Read on to understand more about the link between tinnitus, depression and anxiety and what help for tinnitus is currently available.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no external noise source. It can be a ringing, buzzing, whooshing, or clicking noise. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant, varying in pitch from low to high. In some cases, tinnitus is only noticeable in a quiet environment.
For some people, tinnitus is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. But it can be a significant problem that disrupts daily life and may make spending time with other people harder, which may lead to depression and anxiety. But does tinnitus cause depression and anxiety? The answer is not clear-cut.
There is no denying that tinnitus can be a frustrating condition. It can interfere with your ability to concentrate, work, sleep, and enjoy leisure activities. Tinnitus can also lead to feelings of irritability and frustration. And if you already suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety, tinnitus can worsen these conditions.
Tinnitus and Depression
There are a few theories about how tinnitus and depression are connected. One theory is that the constant ringing or buzzing can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can trigger depression. Another theory is that tinnitus may worsen existing symptoms of depression by making it harder to focus, sleep, socialise or find enjoyment in activities that were once pleasurable.
It’s also possible that the link between tinnitus and depression is more complex than a simple cause-and-effect relationship. For example, people who experience tinnitus may be more likely to have other health conditions that can lead to depression, such as hearing loss or cardiovascular disease. It’s also possible that there are genetic factors involved. Studies have shown that people with specific genes are more likely to experience tinnitus and depression.
Tinnitus and Anxiety
Like depression, there are a few theories about how tinnitus and anxiety might be connected. One theory is that the fear of never escaping the noise can lead to anxiety. Another theory is that tinnitus may worsen anxiety symptoms by making it hard to concentrate or sleep. As with depression, it’s likely the link between tinnitus and anxiety is down to various factors such as genetics and overall physical and mental health.
Tinnitus Sound Therapy
Tinnitus sound therapy is a type of treatment that is used to help minimise the symptoms of tinnitus. There are two main types of tinnitus sound therapy, masking and habituation.
This involves exposure to low-level background noise or music to help “mask” the tinnitus noise and make it less noticeable. This type of sound therapy uses devices that produce masking noise, such as white noise machines, fans, or ear-level headphones or earbuds.
The sound helps to cover up the noise of the tinnitus so that it is less noticeable.
There are two main types of masking devices, wearable and non-wearable. Wearable devices are small, portable, and can be worn in the ear like a hearing aid. The auditory nerve sends signals to the brain that can help “mask” the tinnitus noise. Non-wearable devices are larger and must be placed near the person to work. Some examples of non-wearable masking devices include white noise machines and fan units.
Masking devices are considered to be safe and effective for most people with tinnitus. However, some potential side effects are associated with masking, including loudness recruitment and increased anxiety levels.
Habituation therapy is a treatment used to help with tinnitus by training yourself to become less aware of the ringing or buzzing noise in their ears. During habituation therapy, you listen to noise similar to your tinnitus noise, so much that eventually, it fades away from your consciousness.
It’s like wearing glasses and forgetting about them over time! Of course, how long this takes varies person by person. Anywhere up to two years of focused therapy with guidance could be required for the desired outcome.
Does Sound Therapy Work?
Some evidence suggests tinnitus sound therapy may help reduce the perception of tinnitus and improve mental health and overall quality of life. Research published in the International Journal of Audiology has found that tinnitus sound therapy can reduce tinnitus-related distress and improve sleep quality. Another study published in Frontiers in Neurology in 2021 found structural and functional changes in the brain following tinnitus sound therapy.
We spoke to Lee Fletcher (RHAD), (BSHAA) Principle audiologist and company director at Regain Hearing, about why he recommends tinnitus sound therapy.
“Tinnitus sound therapy can be a powerful treatment. However, most people require a combination of treatments, which may include sound cancellation technology and hearing aid devices, all the way through to specially designed tinnitus apps. A tinnitus treatment plan needs to be bespoke, and we have found that a combination of treatments can reduce and even eliminate the discomfort that tinnitus causes.”
Research is still limited; the evidence does not support a direct link between tinnitus and depression or anxiety. While the two conditions may be linked, the cause-and-effect relationship is unclear. That said, if you are struggling to cope with tinnitus, it is a good idea to find an audiologist to help you manage your symptoms.
Additionally, while there’s still much researchers don’t understand about the connection between tinnitus and mental health conditions, treatments are available that can help manage the psychological symptoms of tinnitus. If you think you might be experiencing depression or anxiety due to your tinnitus, talk to your doctor about treatment options.